Missing ride: Up, up, and awry

What a lovely gift for Mother's Day: a hot-air balloon ride, during which Robin Warner and her daughter would float above this beautiful slice of earth and delight in the view, the day, and each other. At least, that was the plan– but the plan never got off the ground, and two months later, Robin Warner was still angry about the debacle.

On July 5, she wrote a letter to Jorg Lippuner, General Manager of the Boar's Head Inn. Although the Inn does not own Boar's Head Ballooning, it allows the company to link itself to the Inn, and Warner wanted Lippuner to know the details of her experience.

Warner claims that when her daughter made the reservation, she "was told by Boar's Head Ballooning that she would receive a confirmation in the mail. It never came. Three days before Mother's Day, my daughter called again and was then told she would receive a phone confirmation. It never came either."

The night before Mother's Day, Warner says, after "frantically" trying to reach someone at Boar's Head Ballooning, her daughter finally got a call at 10pm saying that the ride was cancelled due to weather. "She tried to reschedule it a couple more times," but, thanks to June's nonstop rain, it never happened.

"Finally, she got a date for Saturday, June 21. On June 19, she was told that the ride would definitely take place, unless someone called to cancel, and that we were to meet the pilot in the lobby of the Boar's Head Inn at 6am on the 21."

They did as instructed– but "no one came. We waited an hour." During their wait they called Boar's Head Ballooning but got a message saying the office was closed on weekends. The desk clerk at the Inn, according to Warner, had no alternate number for the balloonist.

"We looked in the phone book and found the home number of [Boar's Head Ballooning owner] Rick Behr. There was no answer, and we left a message on his machine." Finally, they gave up and went home.

"We later found out," Warner wrote, "that Mr. Behr had misread the date of the balloon ride. If that had been his first mistake, we would be more understanding, but that mistake, and his ongoing total lack of communication, is grossly unprofessional."

I spoke with Behr, who accepted complete responsibility. "I was on vacation," he said, when he received a fax about Warner's reservation from his office. "It was a mistake, no question about it. I thought it said the 27th."

When I asked why the Warners' original reservation had not been confirmed as promised, either by mail or phone, he replied, "I don't know– I really don't. I [usually] send a confirmation by letter or fax." As for Warner's frustration, he said, "I don't blame her one bit. I was hoping she'd get in touch with me."

That's where the two sides sharply disagree: Warner claims that Behr "shut the door" on further communication, and Behr claims that Warner's anger was so great, he assumed she didn't want to be approached.

Behr said that he'd like to resolve the situation, however, and offered Warner and her daughter a free balloon ride (which would normally cost $165 per person). Warner, for her part, told me she wasn't one to hold a grudge, and would be happy to accept his offer.

As for Jorg Lippuner, the general manager at Boar's Head, he not only discussed the situation with Warner by phone after receiving her letter, but followed up with a written apology.

"We are very sorry to hear of your disappointment," he wrote, "and, as a token of amends, would like you to be our guest for Sunday brunch for two here at our Old Mill Room on August 10."

"It goes without saying," he added, "that I will make Rick Behr aware of our expectations regarding customer service and how negatively the lack thereof reflects on Boar's Head Inn."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.